As part of a February roundtable of students discussing their perspectives on internet teaching, a student said that staring at online slides for several hours a day in class was challenging, tiresome, and physically painful. This year, they were more conscious than ever of the amount of time on the internet.
I was surprised by her response since I had never considered that seeing too many slide-heavy Zoom lectures may induce physical discomfort as a seasoned technology instructor. However, it made me wonder: What else are we, as teachers, unintentionally doing in our virtual classrooms that can cause students bodily or psychological distress?
Let us evaluate student opinions on the last year as we look to a post-pandemic future that will undoubtedly involve some technology-assisted education. Here are seven dos and don’ts based on students’ remarks from that February panel, including findings from a recent Educes research. My focus here is on what to do and what not to do. If you’re still teaching in a virtual environment this fall, the advice below can also be applied to a real classroom. Following are the dos and don’ts for post-pandemic teaching.
1. DO incorporate more active learning and discussion activities into the classroom
I’m not suggesting that you never give a lecture in class, on Zoom, or in person. On the contrary, when you, as the expert, need to explain complicated concepts, demonstrate disciplinary thinking and problem solving, or offer parallels to nurture those “a-ha” moments, a lecture has an entirely appropriate place in teaching. What I’m saying is that in 2021-22, whether you’re teaching in person, online, or in a hybrid format, mix short lecture segments with productive activities.
Consider the activity described by a student on the February panel for more in-depth training. In one of her seminars, she said, students meet in the same homework help groups every Friday to work through a set of questions on a Google Doc and contribute their collective answers.
2. DO continue to use anonymous polling
Early in the pandemic, many professors began using Zoom polling to check in with students on their courses. As the student panelists said, such small-scale opportunities to provide feedback were helpful and easier to do online. Simple inquiries like “What did you think of this reading?” or “What questions do you have about this material?” might help you figure out where students are getting stuck and alter your lesson accordingly.
Anonymous check-ins can be done on Zoom using embedded or external polling technologies like Poll Everywhere or a simple survey in Google Forms. To prepare for the next class meet, you can use polling during a live class or asynchronously. It’s a great approach to engage with pupils, show empathy, give students a voice, and build trust.
3. DO encourage students to move about
If students attend more classes in person in the fall, this may be less of an issue. However, if you’re teaching to a degree online in the fall, allow students to move from their seats.
That serves as the best reminder that you don’t have to use fancy technology all of the time, even in an online course. It’s more vital to be open to new ideas and think creatively. Another simple option is to take a five-minute break and show a full-screen video clip to allow everyone to stretch, do “chair yoga,” or stroll around the room. In-person classes may or may not include chair yoga, but virtual classrooms necessitate other considerations.
4. DO offer more information and activities that are asynchronous
It also allows you to teach more inclusively. As we’ve seen over the last year, not every student has the same level of access to dependable, high-speed internet. Students can view videos, post discussions, and take exams when optimal conditions, so asynchronous engagement provides a more equitable learning experience. Furthermore, async takes less internet traffic than Zoom interaction.
Suppose you have a well-developed collection of asynchronous activities. In that case, you and your students will be better prepared to react quickly if your usual teaching routines are disturbed again due to weather emergencies, conference travel, or illness. If this is too much for you, start small: Add one async element to your class this fall. Then, in the spring, add another. Your online class materials will become more solid over time, and your confidence in teaching online will grow as well.
5. DO place a strong emphasis on contact with and among students
This was one of the most important findings of the Educause survey. If you use asynchronous activities, don’t forget to keep in touch with your pupils. If you’re teaching in Zoom, don’t overlook opportunities for students to interact with one another, even if it’s only for fun. If there’s one thing we’ve learned from this pandemic, it’s the value of human connection. This is also true in class, primarily when all or part of the session is held off-campus.
Following are the don’ts for post-pandemic teaching.
1. DON’T lecture for a whole Zoom class using slides
Even in a physical classroom, staring at slides for an hour is difficult, but at least students can watch the professor and focus on other things at different distances. The student panelist pointed out that staring at slides on a laptop can induce eye strain. So, rather than giving a lecture the same way you would in person, take advantage of the technological options. Consider flipped learning, which creates five- to eight-minute mini-lecture videos for students to watch ahead of time in preparation for group activities in your Zoom class.
Caption the films and provide a time-stamped transcript or generate a bulleted list of themes and when they’re covered in the video to ensure broad access. This is an excellent strategy to utilize when you go back to teaching in person. Do you find the notion of recording all those videos daunting? It doesn’t have to be that. Begin small: Make it a mission to deliver one recorded mini-lecture per week, or possibly one per unit, in the autumn. Making films becomes more accessible with experience, and don’t forget that they don’t have to be perfect. In any case, students prefer to see the genuine you.
2. DO NOT make students use a technology tool that you are unfamiliar with
Another student on the panel highlighted how her professors attempted to figure out how to utilize GPS software — via Zoom screen share — while requiring students to finish an assignment using the app. So if you want your kids to use a technology tool, make sure you know how to use it yourself. Unfortunately, faculty members didn’t have much time to gain knowledge before the rapid change to remote classes in 2020. Still, it would be best if you were prepared to explain the basics of the technology you’re asking students to use this fall.
Similarly, assuming students are “digital natives” who know how to utilize their computers or phones for classwork and are more tech-savvy than you is a mistake. Taking a few minutes of class time to introduce whatever tech tool you’re utilizing benefits all pupils. The same can be said for your institution’s learning management system (LMS): Students can feel more at ease and eager to learn after watching a short video tour.
In higher education, we’ve just been through the wringer. The Big Pivot and the fact that we spent the rest of the year mainly online resulted in hurriedly adopted strategies, a lot of trial and error, and general exhaustion. This summer, set aside some time to consider keeping and discard while teaching with technology. In the fall, it will help both your students and you.